The Health Minister said that certain vulnerable groups like older people and certain vulnerable groups are being given face masks and they are being advised to wear them.
“If there is a community outbreak we are going to recommend masks for all but before that what is the population we need to protect. For the elderly, we have already recommended masks and actually we have provided them with face masks and we are also working with CSOs to make it available for certain vulnerable groups,” said the minister.
From the detection of the first case in 6th March the government has been taking a series of escalating steps to prevent community transmission like closing schools, discos and Drayangs, forbidding public gatherings and asking shops to close by 7 pm.
However, there has been no advice yet on an effective tool of wearing face masks with the old advice on television still recommending it only for those who are taking care of COVID-19 patients or have symptoms.
Lyonpo said, “From day one we have been saying who should wear face masks. So it was not like we had a very silent approach to mask use. I remember Lyonchhen saying who should wear masks and that you should wear it if you are sick to protect others. There is a lot of information that has gone out.”
She said for the public it has to be right measures at the right time and that right time is determined by how this epidemic is going.
“Now we have not said you cannot wear masks. That has always been an open thing and if you want to wear it is your choice,” said Lyonpo.
“As a government are we going to make it mandatory for everyone to wear and that directives will come at a right time and is this the right time- epidemiologically, I don’t think so but it will come,” added the minister.
Lyonpo said if you are sick you should wear, young children should wear, co-morbidities should wear and for the elderly they have already started giving masks.
When asked about the research base of the technical committee Lyonpo said the committee is saying that if you are looking at countries that are recommending masks one has to look at the epidemic they have and then look at our situation.
Lyonchhen said that there would be a directive to wear face masks if there is community transmission.
“We have already said don’t gather. Good if you know when and where and how to wear masks but it will be a nightmare if we announce making masks compulsory and people not knowing how to wear it well and not having it available. These are totally two different things,” said Lyonchhen.
He said he has no problem in others wearing masks and in fact it is good, since if there is one undetected local transmission at least to some extent the wearer will be protected better than others but that is to assume Bhutan has local transmission.
“From our side yes, if you know where and when to wear, please do it, but it is only mandatory for those with symptoms,” said Lyonchhen.